One Emotion at a Time

Ann Voskamp claims you can only feel one type of emotion at a time.

When you feel thankful, you cannot worry or feel afraid.

That thought annoyed me when I first read it. I think it rubbed me the wrong way because it seemed too easy. I kept seeing those lists of thanksgiving everyone was making all over the internet, and I kept resisting from joining in, without even fully understanding why.

Looking back, I think it was because I didn’t believe I could have suffered through so much anxiety and fear, only to arrive at such a simple solution.

It just couldn’t be that easy.

And was it really true that you can only feel one thing at a time?

I finally gave in to the thankfulness list after reading One Thousand Gifts, and I started making my own list.

It’s been changing me, but it didn’t get rid of the fear in my life.

Where was my cure? I knew it had sounded too simple.

There has been no doubt in my mind that counting blessings makes a difference. It changes my thought patterns. It helps me to stop and notice the little things, the gifts I receive every single day.

But always, the fear remained.

I do not get worried and anxious about just anything. With me, it’s usually health-related. I first started experiencing health problems when I was 21 years old, and at a young age, I lost the ability to think I was invincible. I look around me, and see so many people who seem to think, “Those kinds of bad things don’t happen to me.”

But it does happen sometimes, and so at 21, I started to fear, because it all became real for me. For many years, it was the worst-case scenario for me, and I seemed to get stuck in the habit of expecting it.

But one spring day, I realized how unhappy and pessimistic I had become, and slowly, things started to change.  I decided to choose joy, no matter what. My mind changed, and my body changed, and very slowly, I saw answers to some of those prayers I’d been praying for years, begging God for healing.

But always, the fear remained. Always expecting the worst.

My thankful list didn’t fix it.

I’ve kept on listing my gifts, and I’ve added more joy to my life, and experienced more of Jesus, but this “taking every thought captive” has been slow in coming.

Then, a few nights ago, I joined my Bible study group at church, and I was reminded all over again of the idea that we can only experience one type emotion at a time.

This time it stuck. (This time it didn’t annoy me!)

The next day, I tried the idea out. Every time my mind wanted to go down a worried, anxious path, I mentally shouted out, “One kind of emotion!” I grabbed the nearest positive thought I could find, and hung on.

Over and over, I flexed my mind muscles, stopping the bad, and hanging onto the good.

By the end of day, I was mentally exhausted. It is hard to keep things on track!

But this “one emotion at a time” idea is making sense to me right now. I think it’s what I’ve been missing as I’ve listed my one thousand gifts.

It reminds me of forcing our girls to say “thank you”. I can make them go through the motions, but I can’t make them feel true feelings of gratitude, deep down. That’s up to them.

I was going through the motions of making my list, but I was still choosing fear instead of thanksgiving.

I’ve written about my attempts to control my thoughts, and fight back fear and anxiety, many times before. Things go good for awhile, but somehow, I get off-track, and need to be reminded all over again.

That could be discouraging, but every time, I think it goes a bit deeper. I learn and understand a bit more, and get a little farther along on this journey.

So I’ll keep taking one step at a time, one thought at a time, one emotion at a time!

It seems so small – how does one make progress when inching along like this?

But with perfect timing, I come across these words:

“Be not afraid of going slowly; be only afraid of standing still.” – Chinese Proverb

Slow is still progress. And small is okay.

I think it’s supposed to be small. Jesus says to think about today. Today only. Staying focused on what is right here, happening right now.

Oh, that is my challenge and my prayer.

Don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. (1 Peter 3:14-15)

Replace worry with worship. Fear with thanksgiving.

Obviously, I don’t do this often enough, because when I tried singing today as a way of focusing my thoughts, and choosing to worship, Kaylia looked over at me, and said, “Stop singing, Mommy. I don’t need music right now.”

Little steps, right?! We’ll get her used to it.

********************************

What are your small steps? Do you think it’s possible to experience fear and thanksgiving at the same time?

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2 thoughts on “One Emotion at a Time

  1. Thanks, Kendra, as always for your thoughts. I agree that fear and thanksgiving cannot live in our hearts together at the same time. We truly have a choice which we let in. I too have been working (for the past..a-hem…many years) on choosing my emotions, and choosing how I respond to situations in my life. It’s hard, and I love that Chinese proverb you included in your post. That will be one I need to remember not only for myself but for all the members of my family…since sometimes I want them to embrace things a whole lot sooner than they do and I need to recognize the small steps, not just the large leaps!

    On another note: my kids also ask me to stop singing or humming. At one point I realized that they thought I was singing to THEM! I started telling them that I as singing for myself, not anyone else, and that has seemed to help them tolerate it a whole lot more. So funny! Hope your kids start enjoying your joyful songs very soon! I also find humming and singing worship (and Christmas) songs to be so helpful in redirecting my heart and my day.

  2. Pingback: Storing up Good Things in My Heart | Ordinary Days

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